A year ago, I wrote in this space about tools that you can use to wipe hard disks clean of all data. In that article, I mentioned four software-based tools. This week I learned about two more tools and about another type of product that can help when you need to erase a disk.
The tools I mentioned in the previous article (first URL below) are Autoclave (no longer supported), LSoft Technologies' [email protected] (second URL below), Stellar Information Systems' Stellar Wipe Safe Data Eraser (third URL below), and Heidi Computers' Eraser (fourth URL below).
Because Autoclave, formerly provided by the University of Washington, is no longer supported, the university now refers people to the open source Darik's Boot and Nuke tool (DBAN). DBAN works from a bootable floppy disk, can erase data in various modes (DoD short, random number streams) and works with PCs and PowerPC platforms, including Apple Macintosh. DBAN is also bundled with Heidi Computers' Eraser.
If you have Windows XP, then maybe you know that it ships with a command-line tool, cipher.exe, designed to manage encryption on entire volumes as well as directories. One of the features of cipher.exe is that it can wipe a disk to help prevent data recovery. The tool's /? switch gives you a list of all the available command-line options. You can use the last option, /W, to wipe an entire disk or a select directory. There are, of course, other tools that can do the same job, which you can probably find using your favorite search engine.
Wiping an entire disk clean (so that you can recycle or dispose of it, donate it to charity, or return it under warranty) is sometimes quite a problem, especially if the disk is in a system that can no longer boot. You can of course try to use some sort of bootable CD-ROM and then run a software-based tool to wipe the disk. You can also remove the disk and put it into another system, boot that system, then wipe it clean.
Another method, which I think is very handy, is to use a custom connector that lets you connect a disk to any system using a USB or FireWire port. Such connectors are relatively inexpensive and have the added advantage of letting you connect any ATA disk to a supported system, including a laptop, which is also a great way to get a bunch of extra disk space when you need it.
The Dan's Data Web site reviews at least four connectors I think you might be interested in. One is an external drive box shell from Sunnytek Information available for ATA and SATA configurations (review at the first URL below). You can insert just about any regular ATA disk you can think of inside the shell. Another is ComboDock by WiebeTech, which is a small external connector box that connects to the back of an ATA disk (review at the second URL below). Yet another is the USB 2.0 to IDE Cable, available from USBGEEK.COM (review at the third URL below). And finally, there is the R-Driver II USB to IDE cable (review at the fourth URL below), which I think is the best choice because it lets you connect regular ATA drives and the mini-ATA drives that are typically used in laptops and other portable computing devices.
One thing to keep in mind is that USB 2.0 (up to 480Mbps) is much faster than USB 1.x (up to 12Mbps). And likewise, FireWire 1394b (up to 800Mbps) is twice as fast as FireWire 1394a (up to 400Mbps). If you don't have USB 2.0 or FireWire 1394b in your system, you can buy an inexpensive add-on card to significantly speed up read and write times.
Any of the ATA connectors I mentioned let you add a disk to a system in just a few seconds. Not only can you use them to wipe data off disk, but because they offer complete portability, you can also use them with CD-ROM and DVD drives to create your own portable backup solutions.
If you're interested in these connectors, be sure to read the related hardware reviews at Dan's Data.